The informal selection of Victory Court as the preferred ballpark site has been the worst kept secret in Oakland for several weeks now, and we’ve known about the Planning Commission meeting since last week. So why are the regular media choosing to cover it now (EBX/Trib)? Must be a slow news day.
Still, there are a few takeaways, and credit goes to Robert Gammon in that regard. Mostly, they have to do with Mayor-elect Jean Quan’s view of the project, which is more meaningful than anything any other Oaklander, elected or not, has to say on it.
- MLB’s commission wants a ballpark done for Oakland in time for Opening Day 2015. This is reasonable considering the normal 18-24 month EIR lead time, which could actually go longer because of Oakland’s recent history with large project EIR’s. Given Lew Wolff’s admission that he has been denied further extensions to the Coliseum lease, it leads to wondering about how a gap between the end of the 2013 season and the start of the 2015 season would play out. Is Oakland holding that extra year as leverage with the idea of pushing MLB in its direction? Is MLB entertaining Oakland’s bid in order to secure that extra year or perhaps more if necessary? Beyond those two parties, there are even more interesting questions. If the Raiders secure their own Coliseum stadium deal, won’t that impact an A’s 2014 year in the Coliseum, and vice-versa?
- Quan said she also believes a new ballpark at Victory Court will help businesses in closeby Chinatown and could provide the impetus for a new hotel/convention center. It’s strange that the big unifying development strategy for all of downtown Oakland is a ballpark. It makes sense for a ballpark to be a major attraction, but the linchpin? That doesn’t make sense. However, that’s the direction that Oakland is moving towards with this hole-in-the-donut strategy. What if the ballpark doesn’t pan out? That doesn’t mean that Oakland will be ready to go with Plan B, whatever that is. It’s one thing for corporate interests to help pay for a ballpark. That’s not going to happen with a convention center complex. Those projects are usually 100% public/redevelopment funded. From a purely numbers/potential standpoint, a ballpark makes sense because it’s essentially “free” money and buzz, especially if the financing part can be worked out. Something else in the ballpark’s place could take many more years to get going.
- Quan believes that the only way Major League Baseball would turn down Wolff and Fisher’s request to move the team to San Jose is if the City of Oakland shows that it has a viable plan for a new A’s ballpark and that city leadership is committed to making it happen. If true, this spawns a number of new questions about MLB’s timeframe. Will they set a hard date to complete the EIR and land acquisitions? Will MLB set targets or milestones for the project? What if Oakland doesn’t meet those milestones, or new challenges or opposition shows up? Could MLB create for itself an easy out if things aren’t going well? What constitutes fair or unfair is almost entirely subjective.
- In another Gammon article about Quan, it was noted that as part of Quan’s “Not Don” campaign, a mailer “repeatedly pounded Perata for the Oakland Raiders deal, a financial debacle that will end up costing East Bay taxpayers more than $600 million. At least two mailers, showed a mostly empty Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, with the message: ‘Thanks, Don.’ ” The challenge for Quan is to show that she can more competently get a stadium deal done than Perata. The key to this is transparency at every stage of the process. Since the original four sites in May were whittled to one with no public vetting and at least a few commenters will chime in on 12/1 with their own recommendations, it’ll be fascinating to see how the preferred site and alternatives are handled. Will all buildable sites have to be included in the EIR? What if the EIR actually recommends a different alternative to Victory Court (unlikely but still)? The dagger in the Fremont plan was the abrupt change from Pacific Commons to Warm Springs, with no public input beforehand. In San Jose, the Diridon site was not the frontrunner at the outset and only became the preferred site over time. From a selling the public standpoint, how warm are the citizens of Oakland to any stadium deal, even one that has the team picking up the entire construction tab? We’ve seen a Facebook group, we have yet to see a single poll on the subject.
While we’re waiting for the process to kick off, I’ve found a couple of nuggets that might be helpful. First up, a cursory look at the California EPA’s Cortese list shows that none of the parcels at Victory Court fall under brownfield or contaminated status.
One of the more curious aspects of the project is the land grouping, including the Laney College parking lot. While it makes sense for the ballpark to use the Laney lot as part of its parking infrastructure, it’s also quite possible that like the Diridon plan, there could be no parking at the ballpark at all. If there’s no parking at the ballpark, there’s also less environmental impact from the ballpark. That doesn’t mean that the 880 on/off-ramps won’t need improvements, but it could mean that the cost for those improvements won’t be as severe as they could be. Instead, fans would be encouraged to park at Laney (expanded or not), downtown, or at JLS. It’s only one of many details that will have to be addressed as part of the process.